By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal
KUALA LUMPUR, June 15 — The government has imposed two new conditions on Australian miner Lynas’s controversial rare earth plant in Gebeng, Kuantan in what is seen as part of its latest move to mollify public anger and fears over radioactive pollution.
But the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (MOSTI) rejected an appeal by Gebeng villagers against the government’s decision to approve a temporary operating licence (TOL) for the Lynas plant, citing a lack of justification for such a move.
In a letter to the villagers, the minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili said the government had told Lynas to submit a plan to immobilise radioactive elements in its waste, and to come up with an emergency response plan on dust control.
Three individuals — Ismail Abu Bakar, Tan Ah Meng and Abujavalli V. Raman — had appealed against the Atomic Energy Licensing Board’s (AELB) decision on January 30 to approve the Lynas TOL, claiming it would emit high levels of radioactive pollution that would endanger the lives of those living near the plant in the Gebeng Industrial Estate.
“Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas” coalition chairman Tan Bun Teet said today the group received a letter from Ongkili’s ministry rejecting its appeal to revoke a license granted to Lynas earlier this year, citing a lack of scientific and technical justification.
“The two conditions are flimsy and general in nature. They are not specific enough and will in no way safeguard or appease the fears of residents living in the area,” he told the Associated Press earlier.
Tan said the group will now proceed to challenge the ministry’s decision in court.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said on Wednesday Putrajaya had yet to decide the status of Lynas Corporation’s controversial rare earth refinery in Kuantan, a RM2.5 billion project which has been the subject of fierce protests by residents in the prime minister’s home state.
He told Malaysians during a live Internet chat session that the government first wants to be “fully satisfied” that residents are “convinced” of the plant’s safety before making its decision.
Lynas had said last month that it was on track to start up its rare earth plant in Malaysia next month after Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin, chairman of the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on the refinery that has raised fears of radiation pollution, called it “the safest rare earth plant in the world.”
It also said in April that delays in obtaining the licence for its facility, which was initially approved in January, may have “very serious consequences” for the RM80 billion worth of rare earth orders already received as it is “sold out for the next 10 years.”
The Lynas PSC was approved by the Dewan Rakyat during the March sitting amid opposition furore over the alleged lack of terms of reference and suspicion that the nine-man panel would be used to “whitewash” the issue.
Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers have also questioned the point of the select committee given that Najib had earlier already said that the government would not be bound by the panel’s findings.